Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 11 August 2003
Page: 12972

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:00 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (Senator Coonan) and the Minister for Finance and Administration (Senator Minchin) to questions without notice asked by Senators Faulkner, O'Brien and Stephens today relating to the subsidy on the production of ethanol.

Today in question time a situation was exposed in which not only has the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, been caught out yet again in relation to the ethanol issue but also Senator Coonan has been caught up in the web of this dodgy deal-for-mates issue. You have to feel sorry in a way for Senator Coonan—she forgot to double check with Mr Howard that he was telling the truth about the meeting with Mr Dick Honan before she recounted in the Senate the Prime Minister's false assurances to the House of Representatives. That is what Senator Coonan failed to do and she—as well as Mr Howard—stands exposed on this issue.

This issue goes to a question asked in the House of Representatives by Ms Anna Burke on 17 September last year. The first part of the question was:

Prime Minister, was the government contacted by the major Australian producer of ethanol or by any representative of his company or the Industry Association before its decision to impose fuel excise on ethanol?

The second part was:

If so, when?

And there was a third part to the question:

Was the government urged to take action to prevent Trafigura Fuels Australia from importing a shipment of ethanol from Brazil at a commercially competitive price?

What was the first part of Mr Howard's answer to these questions?

Speaking for myself, I did not personally have any discussions, from recollection, with any of them.

That is what the Prime Minister told the Australian parliament about possible meetings. Two days after that, the Prime Minister told the parliament that he had checked his records and that he had not spoken with the ethanol producer, Mr Honan.

We all know—courtesy of an FOI document obtained by my colleague Senator O'Brien—that indeed Mr Honan did have a secret meeting with Mr Howard six weeks before Mr Howard's misleading statement to the parliament. We know that the meeting was attended also by a PM&C note-taker. This situation was made even worse, in relation to misleading the public, when Mr Howard was asked in Darwin about the question. He said:

But it's false. I haven't misled Parliament. The answer I gave related to the question I was asked, and the question I was asked was in relation to a particular shipment of ethanol from Brazil and at the time I had the meeting I didn't know about the shipment.

But he was pressed by a journalist on this issue and on the actual question. The journalist asked:

There were parts to the question though, weren't there? You're talking about the last part of the question.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I'm talking about the first question that was asked of me.

Of course, the first part of the first question asked of Mr Howard was about a meeting. The second part asked when the meeting took place. Only the third part mentioned the ethanol shipment to Brazil. Again, Mr Howard has misled the parliament and the public. This is a situation which you get used to, I suppose, with Mr Howard. This is another case of truth overboard from the Prime Minister. His code of conduct—much vaunted when it was tabled in the parliament and now much discredited—provides for any minister or prime minister who misleads the parliament or the public to correct the record. They must not intentionally mislead the parliament or the public. We now know that these misleadings of the parliament and the public remain uncorrected—they stand uncorrected. Mr Howard thinks he is above all the parliamentary and the Westminster conventions— the morality and the proper political process. But I say he is not. He stands exposed and he ought to be man enough to acknowledge the mislead and to correct the record.